This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2009, edition of the Catholic Sun.
By Luke Eggleston, Sun staff writer
The last decade has presented the Syracuse Diocese with more challenges than perhaps any era in its history. It has been the task of Bishop James M. Moynihan to guide the faithful of the diocese through this difficult period.
During his tenure, the bishop made three aspects of Catholic life his top priorities: Catholic schools, respect for life and vocations.
Msgr. George Sheehan has been an educator and an administrator in diocesan schools for a total of 18 years, serving at both Bishop Ludden and Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High Schools. Before Michael Colabufo and Chris Mominey, Msgr. Sheehan served as interim superintendent.
He said that the hallmark of Bishop Moynihan’s leadership regarding Catholic schools has been his vision. Msgr. Sheehan noted that the bishop saw the goals of the church as linked to those of the schools.
“First of all, he was strongly committed to Catholic schools because he knew they were a mission of the diocese and the church as a whole,” Msgr. Sheehan said.
One of the bishop’s most significant contributions has been the combining of schools in the Eastern and Western Regions of the Syracuse Diocese and the planning of combinations in the Southern Region.
“He was a visionary as far as implementing the needs for the continuation and strengthening of Catholic schools in the diocese, which included combining the schools in order to increase their impact on a certain area and to enforce the Catholic identity as well as improve academic excellence,” Msgr. Sheehan said.
In the Western Region, schools located primarily in the city of Syracuse were combined to form the Bishops’ Academies. In the Eastern Region, Rome Catholic School was formed as a kindergarten through 12th-grade institution and several elementary schools are involved in a longterm plan to combine with Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in the Utica area.
Msgr. Sheehan noted that the Rome Catholic model has proven to be a success.
He concluded by stressing that the bishop’s vision for Catholic schools has been on affirming their Catholic identity.
“I think all of this in the bishop’s mind is what he would term ‘visioning’ Catholic schools,” Msgr. Sheehan said. “The most important identity in a Catholic school is its Catholicity.”
Throughout his tenure, the bishop has also been a staunch defender of the right to life.
On Dec. 8, 1995 Bishop Moynihan celebrated a Mass for Life and led a prayerful procession to Syracuse Planned Parenthood to pray the rosary and has continued with 26 more throughout the diocese.
Current Interim Director of Catholic Charities Cindy Falise was director of the diocese’s Respect Life Office during the majority of the bishop’s tenure. She lauded his efforts on behalf of the unborn.
“Since his ordination in 1995, Bishop Moynihan broadened awareness for the Respect Life Ministry office started under Bishop O’Keefe,” she said. “It has been a pleasure for me to work closely with Bishop Moynihan on respect for life issues.”
Along with the issue of abortion, the bishop has advanced the church’s position on several life issues.
“Bishop Moynihan has spoken eloquently on issues of abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment,” Falise said.
She added that the bishop has addressed the issue not only through marches, but also through the Respect Life Office’s lobbying efforts.
“Bishop Moynihan recognizes the need for systematic change and has encouraged advocacy at both the state and national levels,” she said.
During Bishop Moynihan’s tenure, 18 priests of the Syracuse Diocese have been ordained and nine are currently studying in the seminary.
Father Joseph O’Connor noted that the bishop casts a wide net to find young men interested in pursuing a vocation.
“Bishop Moynihan never did a confirmation without asking each candidate who posed for a picture if they were considering the priesthood,” Father O’Connor said. “With him it was a matter of fact that every young person should be considering religious vocation, both boys and girls.”
One of the bishop’s most effective tools was the annual picnic, which he held for young people considering the priesthood or religious life.
“He invited them all to his annual picnic, an event that he really wanted to be a casual experience for them with their bishop and just talking about the life of priesthood [or religious],” Father O’Connor said. “And he invited all the religious communities and seminarians to be part of that day. It was day in and day out for him to constantly encourage young people to consider religious vocation.”
Father Tom Servatius is the diocesan director of seminarian formation. He noted that the bishop has always placed an emphasis on quality.
“One of the hallmarks of Bishop Moynihan’s time here is that he has struck a good balance between quantity and quality,” Father Servatius said. “We certainly would love to have lots of seminarians, but not at the expense of having guys who might not make good priests. So our stringent screening certainly has been supported by Bishop Moynihan from his first day here. We have screened well, using a very wide variety of instruments to test just to see if a certain applicant is a good applicant and will this be successful and will this guy be happy and healthy as a priest.”
Bishop Moynihan has also been instrumental in raising money for the diocese’s various ministries including HOPE Appeal, which supports each ministry in the Syracuse Diocese. According to HOPE Appeal Director Christopher “Kit” Parker, the bishop’s efforts have generated $52,293,103 since 1995. In addition, the Heritage Campaign generated $42,672,341 between 1999 and 2009; the Bishop’s Education Fund has accrued $1,200,000; and the McDevitt Bequest has totaled $33,000,000. The total funds raised by the bishop amount to $128,165,449.
“What a remarkable achievement. One of Bishop Moynihan’s lasting legacies will be how he opened people’s minds to the potential for supporting the church’s mission,” Parker said.
Father Andrew Baranski was the bishop’s priest secretary for six years and knows him as well as any cleric in the diocese. Father Baranski acknowledged the bishop had faced numerous challenges throughout his tenure with determination and leadership.
“I think he was very deliberate in the steps that he took. He was determined to carry through but he was also very pastoral,” Father Baranski said.
Father Baranski underscored the support the bishop offered all of the diocese’s priests during the difficult era.
“I think he was very open and encouraging to all the priests. He was always very encouraging,” Father Baranski said. “I think he was a good shepherd considering what was going on in addition to the normal every day things.”
In addition, Bishop Moynihan was a staunch champion for Blessed Mother Marianne Cope’s cause for sainthood.
“Bishop Moynihan’s support to Mother Marianne’s cause is integral to her being [elevated] to the status of Blessed Marianne today,” said Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF, the advocate for Blessed Mother Marianne’s cause for sainthood. “He took the cause to head and heart from the beginning, advocated it personally both to Pope John Paul II and to our current Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. We are indebted to him for recognizing Mother’s heroic virtue and placing thought into action. His enthusiasm, drive and personal devotion have helped make work involved not only easier but a joyful experience.”